BETTER LATE? De Blasio Signed Onto ‘Streets Master Plan’ Bill After He Was Let Off the Hook

Putting their heads together or butting heads? Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson disagree over how crashes should be investigated. File photo: WIlliam Alatriste
Putting their heads together or butting heads? Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson disagree over how crashes should be investigated. File photo: WIlliam Alatriste

Mayor de Blasio finally signed onto Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s “Streets Master Plan” safety bill only after the bill mostly absolved Hizzoner of having to actually implement it.

Under Johnson’s original legislation, Int. 1557, City Hall and the Department of Transportation would have been required — by this fall — to create a “master plan” for installing 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes within five years, instead of the city’s current piecemeal approach. But the amended bill, unveiled today, gives the mayor until Dec. 1, 2021 to create the five-year plan — one month before the end of his reign as New York’s leader.

The bill is now expected to pass the Council on Wednesday, meaning, in effect, that the mayor will sign a bill into law — and create the first five-year master plan — but leave it to his successor to carry it out Johnson’s effort to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over cars and, as he has put it repeatedly, “break” the city’s “car culture.”

Prior to Monday, the mayor and his DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said they supported the goals of the bill, but could not support it, even as 25 council members did, and even after 26 cyclists had been killed on the streets of New York City this year — well more than double the 10 who were killed all of last year.

But the New York Times made it clear what had changed: “To gain Mr. de Blasio’s support, Mr. Johnson’s office agreed to push back the start date for the first streets plan, from this month to December, 2021, around the time the next mayor takes office. Until then, the city will keep its current commitment to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes each year.”

The delay will be welcome at DOT, whose commissioner had testified that Johnson’s ambitions would “require a significantly reconfigured agency” and would dramatically increase DOT’s already big budget.

“The bill’s vast new operational requirements would necessitate significant additional funding from the city budget, which we estimate to be several billion dollars, new head count, new facilities, and equipment,” Trottenberg testified on June 12. (The final cost of the bill would be $1.7 billion over 10 years, according to Johnson’s office.)

Trottenberg also hinted at the political backlash of no longer needing to go through every community board in order to try to gain the purely advisory panel’s support.

“Furthermore, the magnitude of the changes proposed would require a new reinvisioned public engagement model, perhaps with fewer mandated requirements for work with the city’s 59 community boards, and the work we do with council members…,” she said.

It’s unclear if the delay in drafting the first master plan was a concession to de Blasio or simply reality.

Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt — a high official in the Bloomberg administration DOT — said the delay is expected because of the scope of work in order to release such an expansive plan. And because of the delay, the de Blasio administration now has more time to create a better plan before handing it over to the next administration, which will get to decide how it handles public input, Orcutt said.

There’s currently no requirement for DOT to seek support from the local community boards before installing a new bike lane, but the agency typically does anyway. There are no details as part of the master plan legislation about how that process will change, but given the fact that it requires 50 miles of protected bike lanes to be installed each year, it’s implied that community board approval may be a thing of the past.

“They still have to do work under this mayor,” he said. “We don’t know how City Hall and DOT would use the master plan to change its outreach for street changes. But it gives the next administration a fresh way to approach the public conversation if that administration wants it.”

In addition to the date change for the creation of the master plan itself, there are some other, minor changes to the amended legislation, including:

  • a requirement to “implement at least 12 shared streets” was taken out.
  • giving the next mayor two more years to create and maintain 1 million square feet of pedestrian space (changing the language from “no later than Dec. 31, 2021” to “no later than Dec. 31, 2023.” The goal remains the same: to double space currently occupied by pedestrian plazas.
  • a requirement to “install accessible pedestrians signals at all intersection with a pedestrian signal” was changed to “install accessible pedestrian signals at no fewer than 2,500 intersections, with installation of such signals at no fewer than 500 intersections during each year of such plan”
  • a requirement to “redesign all intersections with a pedestrian signal pursuant to a checklist of street design” was changed to “redesign at least 2,000 intersections with a pedestrian signal pursuant to the checklist required by section 19-182.2, with at least 400 such intersections redesigned during each year of such plan”

After initial publication of this story, City Hall spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz and Speaker Johnson sent over the following statements:

“The mayor has always supported the goals behind the Master Plan building on our Vision Zero agenda, and after resolving some logistical challenges to ensure the City can make the plan a reality, he was happy to publicly commit his support,” said Baskin-Gerwitz. “In order to break ground on a bike lane in 2022 or even later, the City must begin laying the groundwork years in advance, and the de Blasio administration stands ready to lead the way on the plan’s implementation over the next 26 months.”

“We agreed to make changes based on everything the City must do to implement the first five year plan, including hiring staff, building out new facilities, and increasing operational bandwidth to have the capacity to do everything this plan will require,” said Johnson. “As we build up to when the master plan takes effect, I will continue working with my colleagues in the Council, safe streets advocates, and with the administration to increase pedestrian space, speed up buses, build protected bike lanes, and improve accessibility throughout the five boroughs as fast as we possibly can. Our streets are in crisis and we will act aggressively right now as well as in the years to come.”